Any questions for Ben?

Director: Rob Sitch
Starring: Josh Lawson, Rachael Taylor, Daniel Henshall, and Felicity Ward.
Distributor: Independent
Runtime: 114 mins. Reviewed in Feb 2012
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Coarse language and sex scene

This is a home-grown Australian comedy about 27-year old Ben (Josh Lawson), who comes to the realisation that life for him is very empty. The insight comes to him when he is invited back to a reunion at his old high school to speak with his ex-class mates, who are seen as much more successful than he is. His speech as a strategic brand manager is a disaster, and he is not asked any questions at all. Nobody can think of what to ask him. He takes the slight personally, and he decides his life is the problem. After the enthusiasm the school shows to his old class mate, Alex (Rachael Taylor), who now works as a human rights professional with the UN, he concludes that his life is uninteresting both to him and to others. He decides he needs to turn over a new leaf, but he does so by doing exactly what he has been doing before – chasing sexy women, and engaging in short-term relationships. His attraction to Alex is the springboard to his angst about trying to find personal meaning in his life.

The movie has a love affair with the city of Melbourne, and shows off Melbourne and its surrounds splendidly. However, the plot of the movie sets the scene for action effects that don’t come off. Ben drives a fast sports car, goes on an overseas holiday, plays the role of best man at a wedding, goes on a trip in a hot air balloon, and continues partying. Each scenario is intended to yield distinctive comic effects, but the overall impact of the film rests more in the dialogue of the team players, and some of it is very sharp, funny and punchy. Ben’s rival is described by him as an “Olympian – what does he have to do?”, and one of the joys of “Captain Cook Cottage (in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens) is that it is right next door to a kiosk”.

The relationship between Ben and Rachael, who is the chief romantic interest of the movie, takes a long time to come to anything, but they are an attractive romantic couple. The cast of the movie has an easy charm about it, and there are a lot of cameo players in the movie that play their roles freshly and amiably. Emily (Felicity Ward) brings a consistent, spontaneous flair to her part as one of Ben’s best friends, who cares for his welfare and tries to help him to commit.

One thinks fleetingly at times of the quality of “The Castle” (1997), one of Australia’s finest comedies, and Rob Sitch directed it and this film. The comparison highlights the differences in the quality of the two comedies. Both aim to depict a particular cultural milieu, and present us with a film about ordinary people. “The Castle” is a brilliant embodiment of cultural cringe. This movie, however, lacks focus, as Ben’s “cool-life crisis” drags on. Sporadically, however, Sitch does direct it to target satirically what makes the Australian stereotype so distinctive (and enjoyable).

The film tries to capture the culture of young people to make the idiosyncrasies of their culture meaningful and familiar. The musical soundtrack to the movie is loud, the language at times is coarse, but some situations (like the comic interruptions of the priest who marries Emily) are genuinely funny, as the film plays out its various scenarios, staged in rapid succession. One of the best of those is the series of delightfully comic interactions, appearing in the film’s final credits, between Customs Officers at Melbourne airport and Ben as the miserable romantic en route to try to find Rachael, who unfortunately uses the word “terrorist” in his conversation with the airport clerk at check-in time. There is something delightfully refreshing about the Officers ending up trying to train Ben to speak Arabic, and toasting his prospects with confiscated alcohol. This is an entertaining Australian comedy. It may not live up to the reputation of “The Castle”, but it is enjoyable nevertheless.

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